WNY Athletics

Niagara & Orleans Counties ‘Super League’ Wrestling Preview 2021

After missing out on a traditional winter season and unexpected delay to the spring season, high school wrestlers of Section VI public schools in Niagara and Orleans counties are finally getting an opportunity to get back to practice and to compete amongst one another in May through the end of the school year in mid-June.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to compete in my Lew-Port singlet for my senior season,” said Lancers senior captain Ciaran Edwards on the long anticipated restart. “Over the past few months, it was looking less and less like we would have that opportunity here in WNY. I am grateful that Section VI and county health officials have allowed the season to commence.”

Edwards has been the face of the student-athlete wrestlers in WNY advocating for a safe return to wrestling and fair treatment for high school wrestling in the region.

The competition schedule for Section VI teams in Niagara and Orleans counties will look slightly different this season. The Niagara Frontier League will be without three of its Erie County member schools in Charter School for Applied Technologies, Kenmore West/East, and Grand Island while the Niagara-Orleans League will be without Akron. Starpoint, the only ECIC member school in Niagara and Orleans counties, will be left without the rest of its ECIC II league rivals, all of whom with the exception of Pioneer, reside in Erie. Also, Lewiston-Porter and Wilson will not be combined for this season, however they will wrestle an identical schedule and share duties of hosting dual meets at either school.

For the 2021 spring wrestling season, the Niagara county NFL teams, the five remaining Niagara-Orleans League teams, and Starpoint will join forces to create an all Niagara and Orleans wrestling league with dual matches running from Tuesday, May 18th through Thursday, June 17th. The league will mix large school NFL powers like last year’s champion Niagara Falls and the defending Section VI Division I champion Niagara Wheatfield Falcons against Niagara-Orleans seven time defending league champion Newfane, as well as the consistent and rising power Starpoint Spartans in a round robin format where everybody wrestles everybody, regardless of school size or current league affiliation. The lowest weight that wrestlers will be able to compete at throughout the season is the weight they weigh in at in their first dual meet.

The ‘super’ Niagara/Orleans league will feature NYSPHSAA, Section VI sanctioned competition, meaning wins and losses will count toward team dual and individual varsity records.

“The idea to do this really came from Jon Hoover (head coach) at Lew-Port,” said NFL wrestling chairman Joe Scapelitti on the inter-league merger. “When we (the NFL) lost Kenmore, CSAT, and Grand Island it left us with five schools. Then, the Niagara-Orleans League lost Akron, that left them with five schools as well. Then, you had Starpoint dangling by themselves. Hoover said, ‘why don’t we just combine with the N-O league?’ That’s when I stepped in as the NFL wrestling chairman and scheduler and said ‘this can happen…we can make this work.'”

Scapelitti continued “We have a great opportunity that might be really good for both of our leagues. It might lead to some talks of a potential merger and strengthening of sports overall in Niagara County. Who knows the doors that this experiment could open?”

One thing to keep in mind as the season kicks off: HAVE PATIENCE. Many schools must share dual sport athletes this spring as well as coaches who may have multiple coaching responsibilities. Some wrestlers may have chosen to participate in a different sport altogether. In any case, please accept a return to wrestling in WNY in any form it may take.

Team Previews

Niagara Falls Wolverines
Head coach: Josh Eagan
2019-2020 accolades: 7-0 league, 15-7 overall, Niagara Frontier League champion, Class AA tournament champion, Section VI Division I Dual Meet Championships competitor, WNY Athletics #5 WNY large school ranking, NYSSWA Honorable Mention NYS large school ranking

Two major changes come to the 2021 Wolverines, one being Niagara Falls great and new head coach Josh Eagan taking over for DJ Giancola who stepped down at the conclusion of the 2019-2020 season, and the loss of 2x New York State champion Willie McDougald who graduated last spring and just concluded his first year on the roster of the University of Oklahoma Sooners.

Eagan and the Wolverines may be the odds-on favorite to capture the N/O title this spring as they return fourteen Class AA place winners and eight Section VI Division I place winners which, given the new weight class reduction from fifteen to thirteen weight classes in NYS, might give ‘Falls a solid athlete at every single weight class. And, McDougald was the only senior on the roster who placed in the postseason that graduated in 2020 (!!!).

Sophomore Amarfio Reynolds, Jr leads the returning group of Wolverines coming off of an individual class title and a 2nd place finish in Section VI Division I that earned him valuable experience in Albany as a wildcard to the NYS federation championships. Sophomore classmates Jaden Crumpler and Grady Peterson both captured 3rd place finishes in the section and played key roles in last year’s ‘Falls lowerweights. Crumpler, Reynolds, and returning junior and sectional 6th place finisher Ja’Shad Bumpers achieved 24, 22, and 21 wins, respectively, in a row from 99, to 106, and 113, respectively, in 2019-2020.

Holding down the middleweights for ‘Falls will be senior and returning sectional 3rd place winner Wilfredo Borges and sophomore 4th place winner Jesiere Carter who were both Class AA finalists, as well as senior Javion Carter who claimed 24 victories and placed 4th in Section VI Division I last season.

Finally, anchoring the Wolverines lineup in the upperweights will be senior Levi Cox, a returning sectional 5th place finisher and 24-match winner. Also beware of senior Carl Ealy in the heavyweights. Ealy missed placing in the section last season but was second on the team with 25 total victories.

This ‘Falls lineup has the numbers and experience to run with anyone in WNY and it may come out on top of the Niagara/Orleans 2021 ‘super league’ by mid-June because of it. The Wolverines’ first dual of the spring will be a home showdown with NFL rival North Tonawanda on Thursday, May 20th.

Newfane Panthers
Head coach: Matt Lingle
2019-2020 accolades: 5-0 league, 22-4 overall, Niagara-Orleans League champion, Class C-D tournament runner-up, 3rd place Section VI Division II Dual Meet Championships, WNY Athletics #3 WNY small school ranking, NYSSWA Honorable Mention NYS small school ranking

Coach Lingle and the Panthers extended their domination of the Niagara-Orleans league in 2019-2020 while wrestling to a 3rd place finish at the sectional dual meet tournament. With a trio of returning NYS place winners and a solid group of returning talent, the pride of the N-O League were hoping for another shot at WNY kingpin Falconer in this year’s Duals and a chance to qualify for the NYS Dual Meet Championships.

While Newfane will miss the departure of three key seniors including 2020 NYS champion heavyweight Jaden Heers, the Panthers feature one of the most talented core groups in WNY. Senior and University at Buffalo commit Andy Lucinksi is the leader of ten returning starters, seven Class C-D place winners, four Section VI Division II placers, and three NYS tournament placers.

Lucinski, a 2x state tournament finalist, was one of four Panthers who competed and placed in Albany in February 2020. 8th grader Aidan Gillings captured the 99-pound sectional title a year ago as a 7th grader in a loaded field and followed that up with a 4th place finish in the state federation tournament. Look for ‘Gilly’ to be up a few weight classes this spring as he just competed and placed in the Journeymen ‘NYS Championships’ in April at 120-pounds. Also returning to the Panthers with state tournament experience is senior Ryan Nugent, a 2020 Section VI champion and NYS 8th place finisher at 145-pounds.

Complementing the sectional champion and state place winning trio are Class C-D champion and sectional 5th place finisher junior Adam Huntington. Also, keep an eye out for talented 8th grader Ayden Buttery in the lowerweights. Buttery placed 6th in the class last season and thus missed the divisional tournament. Buttery will be a key piece in the Panthers lowerweights coming off of a 7th place finish at the Journeymen tournament at 99-pounds.

Despite the loss of some seniors in the second half of the lineup, never look past the well coached and wrestling savvy athletes that are Newfane Panthers. Newfane is back in action on Tuesday, May 18th when they host the Lockport Lions.

Niagara Wheatfield Falcons
Head coach: Rick Sweney
2019-2020 accolades: 5-2 league, 15-7 overall, 3rd place Niagara Frontier League, Section VI Division I Dual Meet champion, Class A tournament champion, WNY Athletics #1 large school ranking, NYSSWA #17 NYS large school ranking

The defending Section VI large school champions had, in every way but one, a pretty standard Wheatfield wrestling season in 2019-2020: a dual meet sectional title (they’ve won two of the three contested titles), state dual meet tournament experience (three in a row), won the Class A title, had multiple state tournament entries (and broke the ten year streak of not having a state champion), finished on top of the local ranking, and finished in the top twenty of the NYS Sportswriters Association ranking.

However, this spring’s squad will feature one dramatic change that WNY’ers are used to when it comes to the Falcons: McDougald boys. NYS champion Justin McDougald moved on at graduation last spring leaving big shoes to be filled for the next Wheatfield star to step up.

The most experienced returning Falcon is sophomore Collin Coughenour who already owns two individual sectional titles and three trips to the state tournament. Coughenour may be the leader on the mat the Falcons need as ten Class A place winners and five sectional placers return, including Coughenour’s runner-up finish in the division last season.

Junior heavyweight Andre Clause enters the new season coming off of a 3rd place finish at sectionals while at the opposite end of the lineup Tremell Mathews claimed 4th at 113-pounds. Sectional 5th place finisher senior Mark Kuhn may be the go-to in the middle of the Falcons lineup, while back in the lightweights impressive 8th grader Garrett Chase is coming off of a big first season in which he placed 6th in the section and helped save the day for Wheatfield in the Dual Meet Championships final. Where the Falcons sustained some damage at graduation besides McDougald was in the 152-170 range where they lost 37 and 34 match winners in Ali Assaf and Jacob Thibeault, respectively.

Keep an eye out for the return of freshman Te’Shaun Mathews to the lineup as well. While ‘Juicy’ had an impressive 7th grade year on the varsity roster, he wasn’t quite able to match that same success in 2019-2020. Should he be available to Coach Sweney this year, Juicy will make the Falcons lineup even stronger.

The bottom line is – don’t ever count out Niagara Wheatfield Falcons wrestling. NW visits NFL rival North Tonawanda on Tuesday, May 18th for both teams’ first action of the season.

Starpoint Spartans
Head coach: Steve Hart
2019-2020 accolades: 6-1 league, 16-6 overall, 2nd place ECIC II division, WNY Athletics #10 WNY large school ranking

Surely, the invitation to join the Niagara/Orleans super league this spring was a no brainer since the Spartans are completely left alone without their normal league rivals. However, one piece of good news for Starpoint is that they will get their shot at bitter rival and seven defending ECIC II champion Pioneer on Wednesday, June 2nd in Pendleton in what is always an entertaining and high quality dual between two of the area’s top programs.

Hart’s Spartans return ten Class A tournament placers out of fourteen from a season ago and four sectional place winners led by defending Section VI Division I champion freshman Gage LaPlante. Starpoint was hit hardest by graduation at 120 and 126-pounds where they lost three sectional place winners among those two weights. However, they only suffered one notable departure in the upperweights.

LaPlante’s supporting cast will consist of sectional 3rd place finisher senior Dylan Lyness and 5th place finisher CJ Uptegrove in the lower-middleweights. Also, junior Thomas Browne returns with a 6th place sectional finish at 160-pounds. Browne may be relied upon to anchor the upper part of the Spartan lineup which returns plenty of experience already.

The lower-middle part of the Spartans lineup could shape up to be one of the top units in the area this spring that could see LaPlante (42 wins in 2019-2020), sophomore JR Leuer (24 wins) who missed placing in the section last year but just took 5th at 99-pounds in the Journeymen tournament, Uptegrove (24 wins), and Lyness (34 wins) wrestle back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Keep in mind the weight class reduction to thirteen classes AND the fact that 104 is now the lowest weight class (no more 99-pounds). Add 7th grade newcomer Griffin LaPlante to the mix, and the Spartans may have a shot to capture the Niagara/Orleans super league title by June. The Spartans last won a division title in 2016-2017, but could this be Hart’s best team yet?

Starpoint’s first competition of the season will be a dual meet showdown at Lockport on Thursday, May 20th followed up by a home tilt with North Tonawanda on Tuesday, May 25th.

Albion Purple Eagles
Head coach: Pat Uveino
2019-2020 accolades: 4-1 league, 10-3 overall, 2nd place Niagara-Orleans League, WNY Athletics #10 WNY small school ranking

Albion benefitted from an impressively robust roster in 2019-2020 and were able to move into the second spot in the final N-O standings while doubling the teams’ overall wins total from the season before. The Purple Eagles also enjoyed the success of senior heavyweight Cody Wilson and his run to states and eventual 6th place finish to become the third wrestler in program history to place at the state tournament. The Purple Eagles also had a solid day at the very strong Class B tournament, tying for 3rd place in the strongest of the four Section VI sectional qualifier class tournaments.

While Albion doesn’t return any divisional placing wrestlers, returning class finalist junior Cameron Bell will be back bringing with him the squad’s highest postseason placement out of the six returning class placers. Following Bell are fellow Class B place winners Amilicar Morales, Ellwood Hafner, Dayne Aina, William Freeman, and Colburn Spierdowis. With six experienced wrestlers making up nearly half of the Albion lineup and another full roster, this team could be prepared for another solid wrestling season this spring.

The Eagles’ first action of the season will be a visit to N-O rival Barker/Royalton-Hartland on Tuesday, May 18th in what could potentially be the first week’s best dual meet.

North Tonawanda Lumberjacks
Head coach: Wally Maziarz
2019-2020 accolades: 3-4 league, 13-8 overall, 5th place Niagara Frontier League

The ever-improving NT ‘Jacks found themselves in the same league position and record as the season before but notched a few more overall wins as a team in 2019-2020. NT also added two more athletes to the Class A podium than the year before, placing six in the class in their own gym including now graduated champion Camerin Holmes. Holmes was the only Lumberjack to graduate out of the postseason place winners. Now, four of the five returning class placers return as seniors including Anthony Swan, Carson Wheeler, Aden Spina, and Chris Kinney. Junior Joey Pasiak returns with a class place finish as well. NT could cause some problems should Pasiak-Swan-Wheeler and Spina-Kinney wrestle back-to-back in the lineup.

Keep an eye out for the return of senior Jared Vanvolkenburg as well. Vanvolkenburg was forced to exit the Class A tournament early due to injury but posted a 21-9 record at 170/182-pounds during the season. Should Vanvolkenburg land in the right place of the lineup NT could see an upperweight trio similar to the one in the lower-middleweights.

A date on the calendar to circle for NT will be Thursday, May 27th when the Lumberjacks host N-O runner-up Albion in a matchup of two very similar teams.

Barker/Royalton-Hartland Rams
Head coach: Matt McCauley
2019-2020 accolades: 3-2 league, 7-14 overall, 3rd place Niagara-Orleans League

The Barker/Royalton-Hartland (B/R-H) squad showed incredible improvement in 2019-2020 compared to its 2018-2019 campaign. They conceded as few as three forfeits at times and enjoyed a much healthier roster than in some previous seasons which was a big reason why B/R-H was able to jump from last place in the N-O two seasons ago to 3rd place in the league last year. Despite some relative inexperience, head coach Matt McCauley’s squad displayed what is the essence of small school wrestling. After losing only two seniors at graduation and experiencing a nearly full lineup a year ago, this is one team that may be big beneficiaries of the new thirteen weight class structure.

Sophomore lightweight Gavin Ciarfella comes into the new season after a breakout freshman campaign in 2019-2020. Ciarfella captured 40 wins and his 3rd place finish in the Section VI Division II tournament earned him a literally almost last second wildcard entry into the federation tournament in Albany. Ciarfella leads a group of four returning Class C-D place winners but is the sole sectional place winner on the team since 4th place finisher Colby Hancock graduated last June. While he competed at the divisional tournament but missed placing, junior Brett Ricker may be a name to watch for this spring as he is coming off of a 34 win season as a sophomore. Taking into account last years’ weights, Ciarfella and Ricker could be a back-to-back punch in the Raider-Rams lineup.

B/R-H hosts N-O rival Albion right out of the gate on Tuesday, May 18th in what could be a very interesting showdown and an opportunity to see where both of these squads stand early in this spring season.

Lockport Lions
Head coach: Bill Morello
2019-2020 accolades: 2-5 league, 3-6 overall, 6th place Niagara Frontier League

After a down year in 2018-2019 season, Lockport started to look like the Lions of old in 2019-2020, climbing back into the win columns in the league and overall standings. As it turns out, Coach Morello has on his hands one of the fastest rising stars in WNY in sophomore Kevin Daskavitz, who as a freshman wrestled to runner-up finishes in both Class AA and the section divisional tournaments behind only Lancaster’s graduated senior and multiple time state place winner Ryan Stencel. Returning alongside Daskavitz are all seven other returning Lions class place winners including sectional 4th place finisher junior Stefaan Fearon at heavyweight.

The Lions’ upperweights could turn out to be one of the best of its kind in WNY this spring as seven of its eight returning postseason placers wrestled between 170 and 285-pounds (five weight classes) last season. Unfortunately, this could cause some issues for Morello as the new thirteen NYS weight classes have only four weights from ~170 to 285: 174, 191, 217, and 285…as if it wouldn’t be hard enough to find room for all of these athletes already. A name to watch out for could be junior Ethan Perkins.

The Lions will face two of the league’s best teams in week one but an interesting early dual to keep an eye on will be Tuesday, May 25th when Lockport pays a visit to Albion.

Lewiston-Porter Lancers
Head coach: Jon Hoover
2019-2020 accolades: 1-6 league, 1-7 overall, 7th place Niagara-Frontier League

Despite low numbers in 2019-2020, the Lancers enjoyed the success of a few outstanding individual performances. Then 8th grader Caden Barrientos earned the top seed in the sectional championships in the loaded 99-pound Division II bracket after having an outstanding season. Barrientos captured the Class B title and ended with a 5th place finish in the section with 40 wins on the season. Senior Ciaran Edwards (34 wins) wrestled to a tough 3rd place finish in Class B before ending the season in 4th place in the 138-pound divisional championships.

Also returning with Class B placements are senior Jeff Hayhurst and junior James Marshall. While both athletes missed placements at sectionals, Hayhurst collected 24 wins and a 5th place Class B finish. Keep an eye on Marshall who placed 4th in Class B after only wrestling two weeks at the very end of the season because of injury. L-P certainly has a core group of experienced wrestlers to lead them and could potentially climb the standings if participation improves.

Lewiston-Porter kicks off the spring schedule with a road dual at Medina on Tuesday, May 18th before hosting Newfane on Thursday the 20th.

Wilson Lakemen
Head coach: Mike Carlo
2019-2020 accolades: 1-4 league, 1-7 overall, 5th place Niagara-Orleans League

With only two seniors on the roster in 2019-2020, Wilson may be in a good position to find better success this season with more returning athletes with another year of experience. Senior Allan Schultz is the only returning Class C-D place finisher from a season ago.

Wilson will visit N-O rival Medina on Tuesday, May 18th.

Medina Mustangs
Head coach: Eric Gross
2019-2020 accolades: 0-5 league, 0-6 overall, 6th place Niagara-Orleans League

At times last season the Mustangs were forced to concede a number of forfeits while at other times they gave up as few as three. Medina isn’t without athletes however, as four Mustangs placed top six in their weights in the Class C-D tournament led by departed senior Riley Black who placed 6th in the section. Black was only one of four seniors on last year’s team.

Senior Mitch Silversmith returns with a 4th place class finish as does junior RaShawn Bloom. Also, senior Miles Hartway returns with a 6th place finish in C-D on his record. If numbers stay strong again for Medina this season, they may very well find their way back into the win column.

Medina will get a double dose of wrestling on May 18th as they host Lewiston-Porter and Wilson before visiting the neighboring Route 31 rival Albion on Thursday, May 22nd.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *